Sunday, March 1, 2015

AgroLiquid Gives St. Louis the Business

So last week AgroLiquid descended on that great American city on the Mississippi: St. Louis.  It was a meeting of Sales Account Managers, Regional Sales Managers, our CEO and a few other St. Johns folks, including me.  It was a different type of meeting in that we wanted to meet with some other businesses and learn how they market themselves.  One of these was the St. Louis Cardinals.  Now that was pretty ambitious.  We met in Busch Stadium in one of the fancy suites and had a great lunch.  This was our view.
 And if you want to find out about a company's business, who better to talk to than the president?  So we did.  Here is Cardinals president, and one of the owners, Mr. Bill Dewitt III.  He gave a really nice presentation.  The Cardinals are certainly one of the most successful baseball teams there is.  They have been constant winners, having won 11 World Series, the first in 1926 and the most recent in 2011.  He said that they strive for consistent quality rather than ramping up for a year or two and then going backwards for a few years.  That is what the public expects.  Sounds like AgroLiquid and the Cardinals agree there.
 Here is the obligatory group picture.  He indicated that St. Louis is considered a small market, and I guess they are.  But the Cardinals are anything but small market when it comes to the team's image.  In fact, last year they drew over 3.5 million fans to home games, which was second overall in the Major Leagues.  (Only the Dodgers drew more, but the Cardinals out-drew the Yankees.)  So it is a well run operation and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Who would have thought we could get someone like that to talk to us?  We have arrived!  I think.
 Well there was the usual Liquid business discussions.  It was a meeting after all.  But it was a good view too.
Later we got a tour of the stadium which included going out to the Cardinals dugout.  That wasn't a white tarp, that is snow.  It was cold and the shaded areas had snow.  (Brian W confided that he spit some tobacco juice on the field like a pro ballplayer.  Cross that off your list Brian.)  But it was cool.  I never imagined visiting a major league dugout.
 Then we had dinner at a place next to the Cardinal Hall of Fame.  Of course they had plenty of tributes to their most famous and popular player.
 Here is the World Series room with uniforms and pics from all eleven of them.
 As in business, Troy prepares to hit one out of the park.  And he is helped by an actual Stan Musial bat.  
 And at dinner, Troy summarized where we were and what needs to be done going into the 2015 growing season.  We all left motivated.
What is anther big business in St. Louis?  (Well besides that one.)  Earlier in the day we had the opportunity to tour the Monsanto Chesterfield research facility.  Monsanto was the pioneer in agricultural biotechnology, and they built this facility back in 1984 just for this purpose.  They are making a significant expansion here, so they are looking at the future.  I was here last October for a tour...still impressive. 
Well they wouldn't let me take pictures of things like the growth chambers, the DNA sequencer and the like.  But I did get this pic of a GMO demonstration of Bt soybeans and regular soybeans showing the effects of two weeks of soybean looper infection.  Get out the insecticide...on the non-GMO that is.
 Our business experience was presented by Monsanto's Director of Industry Affairs.  He represents Monsanto in dealings with grower organizations like National Corn Growers and others, as well as representing Monsanto in regulatory issues and GMO topics with the public.  He explained Monsanto's strategy for dealing with the GMO's and the public.  Seeing as he and I were graduate students together at Oklahoma State many years ago, of course there was old picture sharing. The three of us in that pic there were good friends back then and shared a birthday month, as well as all worked later for Monsanto.  That pic is 35 years old...those were the days. Well I changed jobs, but he stuck around and gave a very informative presentation.  
I saw this display of different products in their line-up.  I remember putting out Lasso plots with my old tractor plot sprayer.  I wish I had a cologne of that smell.  I enjoy working with another equally famous purple product now...Sure-K.
So that was a good day.  So often we are too focused on our business, that it is good to get an outside look at how other businesses operate and see what you can learn.  And I'm glad I got to go.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Down in Monterey...

So I'm sure everyone remembers that song, but this was my first trip there to Monterey, California.  As the entertainment part of the Western Summit conference, we visited the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium on Tuesday evening.
Here we gather in the lobby.  We had the place to ourselves...well except for the fish I mean.  We had a "strolling dinner" which was perfect for visiting and looking at all of the exhibits.
Here is probably the center attraction: The Kelp Forest.  It has kelp of course, but also a myriad of ocean fish.  The orange and black (nice colors) fish in the first picture, a Pacific Sheephead for those keeping track, was in the "forest."  The structure is around 30 feet tall and contains 325,000 gallons of water.  The kelp grows four inches a day.   Do you see that silvery mass of smaller fish in the center?  Those are anchovies and they never stop their coordinated movement through the water.
Well here is a round aquarium full of anchovies, and they too never stopped swimming. Tonight they were all going counter-clockwise.  If one just happened to turn a little and try the other way, the others quickly got him (or most likely her) going back the right way.  They say there is food in there as they keep trolling with their big mouths open.  Very interesting display.  I wonder if they ever stop to rest.  Glad I'm not an anchovy, for a lot of reasons.
Probably everyone has seen a live or picture of an octopus.  But I had never seen a big one like this stuck to the glass.  I would not one wrapped around my leg, for sure.
Here is Dale trying to feed one of the fish.  Fortunately it was some meatballs and not fish.  That would be so wrong.
I had read the book Cannery Row by John Steinbeck many years ago.  But I had forgotten that it took place here in Monterey.  The canning industry was huge here in the early 1900's, peaking during World War I where canned sardines were a staple sent to troops in Europe.   As shown in this part of the museum, it was grueling work for the mostly female work force.  Long hours on your feet cutting and packing cold smelly fish...it was a different time.  Here Troy goes back in time to live in the factory...for a second.  Due to over fishing, the once thriving packing industry had largely collapsed there by the 1950's.  But it is still a popular tourist attraction of restaurants and shops on the wharf.  
At one point during the evening, our CEO Troy addressed the group in front of the Kelp Forest.  He talked about some of the history of AgroLiquid and how we came to be today, and the plans for the future as a family owned business.  Not unlike many of the businesses of our retail partners here. These are challenging times, primarily due to the persistent drought.  But we will work together to keep the crops fed so that the people can be fed.
Then it was back to looking around at the many exhibits.  They are so cleans and pretty to see.
That's a Lionfish swimming on the right.
And these are eels sticking their heads out of those holes in the rock.
Those little orange and white fish are Clownfish.
They had a shallow pool of Batfish, which are a type of ray.  They let visitors feed them small chunks of fish at feeding time.  Well who wouldn't want to do that?  They are harmless after all....
Hey!!!  Give me back my fingers!!!   I thought they were harmless!!!  (Relax readers, I'm just being a Clownfish myself.)
I think that maybe I'm dreamin'.

AgroLiquid Western Summit

So this past week was the first AgroLiquid Western Summit in Monterey, California.  This was a conference of AgroLiquid and our California Retail Partners.  Due to distance, timing and crop focus, many of these folks aren't able to attend the summer Corporate Growth Conferences.  Plus February is a great time for us to visit CA.  There were over a hundred attendees, so it was a good event.  There were a variety of presentations on history, shared vision, product information, chemistry and of course research.  Below Albert gets things rolling Wednesday morning.
 There were also some speakers from outside AgroLiquid, such as a discussion on California nutrient reporting and water issues.  Water, or the lack of it, is the controlling factor now with the persistent drought.  Our luncheon keynote speaker was Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF).  Paul is also an almond grower who had used eNhance before he even knew who AgroLiquid was.  After meeting with Lonny and Troy over the years, AgroLiquid has become a strong supporter of the CFBF's efforts to support CA farmers.  That is a tough job in this state.  Paul did praise AgroLiquid's commitment to CA agriculture, because unlike other companies who talk strong, AgroLiquid actually built a manufacturing plant in probably the most regulated state in the country.  He likes our approach to nutrient rate reduction for the environment and our our commitment to our dealers and growers. 
There was also a panel of agriculturalists from the Young Farmers and Ranchers of California.  They go around and have discussion and debates on a variety of agricultural issues.  Today's topic was Proper Fertilization in Drought.  They raised a number of pertinent issues and it was gratifying to see these well-spoken young people.  They should put them in front of the non-farming public to show this refreshing side of agriculture and provide education on where food comes from.  Incidentally, all of them are current or former students at Fresno State University.  I didn't even know they had an ag program there.  But it must be a good one.  There are at least four universities with ag programs in the state.  This is unusual, but needed in this agriculturally diverse state. 
Well since my time was short in Monterey, and I had never been there before, I took a walk down to the wharf on a break.  This is looking back at the hotel in the middle of the pic.  There are lots of restaurants and shops on what used to be the site of the biggest fish packing industry in the world. (More on that in the next post.)
Here are some seals resting on the dock.  One is ready to go boating.  You may have seen on the news that the seals are having a tough time these days with many of the young ones showing signs of starvation.  They guess that the water has become warmer and reduced the normal types of fish that seals eat.  It is thought that this is not exactly a climate change issue, but a temporary current change. But hopefully it is a short temporary effect.  These seals here look ok to me.
In addition to the support of the CFBF, AgroLiquid has also been supportive of the California Future Farmers of America.  In addition to direct support, there have been programs where a portion of the money from gallons sold was donated to the CA FFA.  At our meeting were were joined by the members of the California FFA Foundation.  These are post high school members who spend a year going around to visit the FFA chapters in the state, promote FFA where ever possible, and represent the FFA in different events....like the Western Summit.  Here we see the Foundation members posing with Troy in the Kelp Forest (read the next post for more on that.)  So it was nice to have them here. 
In visiting with some of them, I was surprised to learn that one smart individual in the group is going to have the opportunity to attend probably the leading agricultural university in the country.  Well one of the top two anyway.  So the future of agriculture in America is very bright indeed.  I'm sure the others will learn and lead too where ever they go.  (Which university you ask?  Well look at the colors of the fish in the first picture in the next blog post for a clue.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Research Collaboration and CCCCCold

So Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers is not the only outfit with it's own crack research staff.  One of our Retail Partners, Security Seed and Chemical operates plot research at three of their own research farms in Kentucky and Tennessee.  We have collaborated on trials and field day support in the past, and will continue to do so this year.  Prior planning prevents poor performance, so their head researcher Patrick came up last Friday to meet with Nick and myself.  That's Patrick on the left in the IQ Hub.  He was accompanied by SAM Jourdan on the right.  Farm Guy in the background is trying to listen in.  It was a good meeting and we will see how it goes this year.
 It was plenty cold last Friday when they were here, but nothing like it was yesterday morning (Sunday).  I was out and had to pause to record this chilly reading on my Flex thermometer machine.  And it is always accurate.  
Hopefully everyone brought in their brass monkeys.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

So What Do All of These Swell People Have In Common?

Shouldn't be that hard to figure out.  And the club meeting was fab by the way.

Winter Work at the NCRS

So even though snow is piled all around the NCRS, winter work continues on the inside.  Piece by piece, all of the field equipment is brought into the shop for a check over, repairs and renovations. Here we see that the drill has just begun to get a check over by Phil (who couldn't be happier to see it again) and Mitch.  Notice the increase in culture of the NCRS shop where we see some quality art work on the wall.  The NCRS Art Appreciation Club meets on the 32nd of each month.
The NCRS as well as all of the AgroLiquid property in the area is carefully maintained by the grounds crew headed by Brian.  Here he is working on one of the mowers that keeps the place looking top notch all summer.  Brian is also in charge of snow removal, so he never leaves here no matter what time of year it is. 
Here is Ron working on a building project.  Every time I show a picture of Ron there are sparks flying everywhere.  He is actually building a new trailer for Brian and crew to haul all of the mowers and yard stuff from the NCRS to the Corporate Office to the Ashley Manufacturing Plant.  Ron can build anything.
 On the outside it is time for pruning.  Here we see Jacob doing the job on the Concord grapes.  He is working with something new: electric pruning shears.  The blades close with the squeeze of a trigger which reduces arm fatigue.  So with the vineyard and the orchard to do, this was a good investment. Jake is quite the grape expert and is creating a new measurement: the weight of the pruned vines by treatment, which is important in grape yield data and a factor of the fertility inputs, including Fase2. 
Later he had some help from new employees Steve and Jay.  Who are they?  Well more on that later. But they were anxious to learn about this, so Jake put them to work.  However, we can only afford one electric clipper, so they had to do it the old fashioned way.  I mean you can't start at the top.
So what to do with all of the clipped wood from the vineyard and orchard?  Well the answer is to put them into a portable burner, under construction here by Tim B.  The barrel you see will have a chimney and be mounted on the trailer for burning the pruned branches.  It is important to remove such debris which can be a potential source of disease or home for wintering insects.  But mainly to remove them for mowing.  Brian wouldn't like all of his winter work to be hurt by a mower choking on pile of  sticks.  The burning barrel will also make a nice source of outdoor warmth for Jacob who has a big job ahead. 
So the work that is done now will be tested in a few months when the NCRS turns into a growing farm again.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

AgroLiquid's Excellent Adventure

So the blog has been on winter vacation. Did you miss it?  Well I've been busy, but sorry to be so tardy with the report on AgroLiquid's adventure in what is truly a paradise....beautiful Kauai.  In January a group of top selling Retail Partners, some grower customers and some AgroLiquid employees made the journey over.  Below is a view from a room at the fantastic Kauai Beach Resort looking out across the property towards the ocean.  Nothing could be better than to be here.
 The first morning everyone assembled for the welcome and orientation breakfast.  I was tabbed to give the itinerary for the week.  Never without my camera, here is our group.  They may not look totally alert since they have probably been up since 3 am or so.  After all, it is five hours earlier there than Michigan, and it is hard to not wake up early despite going to bed late. 
 One activity I always enjoy is to climb the Sleeping Giant mountain.  Here is the group that accepted my invitation the next day.
Here is a view of the mountain.  Doesn't it look like a reclining giant with the head on the left?  The highest point is the nose I guess, but the point on the right is the chin. The trail is around 4 miles long up to an elevation of 1300 ft.  It is mostly pretty easy but it can be steep and slippery in places.  
Here is a close up.  We would be up there soon.  Well kind of soon.
We kind of got spread out a little on the way up.  But here is Grandfather Troy helping Levi up to the top.  Pretty good for a little kid. That's Mom Andrea next and Howard below to catch anyone who slipped.  You can see that we are pretty high up.  And there are no guard rails.  So watch your step. 
 Kelly is glad for a chance to sit.  (Me too.)  We are between the nose and chin.  Just beautiful up there.
Paige takes it on the chin...the Giant's chin I mean.
Another fun thing we did was go out to Kauai Eco-Sporting Clays for some shootin'.  That's the owner, Ben in the middle going over some safety issues.  Ben is big on safety, as you have to be, but also big on fun.  And it is very fun.  We had some practice, another great meal, and then when it got dark, the lights came on and everyone got to go through the shooting drill.  None of my night pic's came out too great.  But it's just like shooting in the day, but darker.  Oh and harder.  But funner.
One day we went to the roasting plant of Kauai coffee.  I had not seen that before.  Here we are getting briefed and covered up.  I mean you don't want a hair in your coffee, do you?
After being roasted it is emptied here to be loaded into the bags.  The different flavors are made by blending the different varieties.  And do you know why it is so good?  Because they use Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers.  Well not on all of the 3000 acres...not yet anyway.  But on quite a bit.
Next we went out into a field that was ready for harvest.  Here they explain the growth cycles, fertilizing and harvest.
 Here is one of the harvesters.  It is like a blueberry harvester where these rods vibrate and shake off the beans, or cherries as they are called.  They are dried and find their way to the roasting plant. Harvest is running behind this year due to a cold summer.  (Sounds like home.)  They are getting closer but don't expect to be finished till mid-February.  Which is a challenge as they will be starting to flower by then, and you don't want to shake off the flowers.  No crop is easy, is it?
Back at the visitor center and gift shop, they have all of their different coffee flavors are available for tasting.  That is a fun visit.  And you can drink all you want when you come visit us at AgroLiquid corporate HQ in St. Johns.
 And to prove that no crop is easy to grow, there is a new pest that is threatening the coffee regions of the world, the Coffee Berry Borer.  It has not been seen in Kauai, but has been in Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii.  It can bore into the cherries and ruin them. Now they are trying to pick up pruned limbs and crop residue on the ground, which is a burden. Hopefully they will not have to deal with this pest here.  They now have traps all around to check. 
We had a nice banquet which was outside under this tent right next to the ocean.  There was a band for your listening pleasure, fantastic food, and a brief address of encouragement and thanks by CEO Troy Bancroft.
 One thing I like is to watch the sun come up.  It does it every day. The resort is on the East side of the island which helps the viewing.
 A ritual of offering a Hawaiian chant, or Oli, at sunrise is a tradition that goes back many years on the island.  There are a number of ancient sacred sites called Heiau's around the island where various ceremonies were held.  One for welcoming sunrise was close to the resort and one of the employees, Kapule, took some of us early risers up there.  He said the oli "E ala E" which means "awaken" and chanted for the sun to rise up to Heaven.  He learned it from his family as a boy there.  Very informative, and pretty sunrise too.
 One day a group of us had the opportunity to visit Pioneer's Waimea research facility.  We saw their lab where they are testing corn to ensure that the desired genes have been incorporated into the DNA. We also saw some of their field plots and how they test these inbreds and parent seed that leads to new hybrids for the corn growing mainland.  They wouldn't let you take pictures, so this is all I got. We use some Pioneer seed at the NCRS and some of it may have gotten it's start here.
On the last night of the company week in Kauai, a group of us went to a luau.  It was fun, and of course, served great food.  During dinner in the dining pavilion there was a Hawaiian band.  One popular luau staple was roast pig that was slow-cooked all day over coals buried in the ground.
And then we moved out to the show stands to see a very nice hula dance show with many costumes and dances.  It was very colorful.  In fact, on my very first visit to Kauai back in 1995, Mr. and Mrs. Cook along with Troy and Jill took Cathy and me to this very luau.  This was my first time back, although I didn't recognize any of the dancers from back then.
So it was a great week and I will sign off by saying what they all say there: A-LOOOOOO-HA! (By the way, all of those "O's" have the long "O" pronunciation.)